On Wednesday the 19th of February, the Voice of Reason held an event at the Shell Hall of the MUSON Centre in Lagos. It was the first instalment of an annual lecture series in honour of the convener of the group, Prince Goke Omisore.
The Voice of Reason is a group of older citizens dedicated to the progress of the peoples of the South-West of Nigeria in the context of the larger national entity. They have a rallying focus on the subject of Restructuring, believing that only a restructured Nigeria with power and economy organized on the basis of increased authority and responsibility for the ‘federating units’ could hope to liberate the energies of the citizens, reduce the scramble for ‘national cake’ and ensure real progress for all.
The central event on the programme was a lecture by Professor James Ayinde Fabunmi, a Nigerian academic currently riding high on the wave of international acclaim. An indigene of Ile Ife, and a product of the Awolowo Free Education policy, Fabunmi is a man with a dazzling combination of skills. He is an aerospace engineer, a scientist, an innovator, and an entrepreneur. He obtained a Master’s degree in Aeronautical Engineering from Kiev and a PhD in Aeronautics and Astronautics from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). He is on the circuit as a Consulting Scientist in Aerospace Engineering, Defence Technology, Artificial Intelligence, and Innovation-Based Economic Development.
He is also the author of a book ‘From Brain Power ToEconomic Power’ which offers new insights into innovation-based economic development – shifting the definition of wealth from ‘resources under the ground’ to building the innovative, problem-solving capabilities of the people.
The proceedings got off to a start with a welcome address by the Chairman of Voice of Reason, Dr Olufemi Adegoke. It was followed by an address from the Chairman of the occasion, Aare Afe Babalola. The nonagenarian, a very enthusiastic supporter of Restructuring, was represented by the Provost of the Post-Graduate College of his University. Aare was firmly committed to Restructuring and the imperative for a new people’s Constitution.
Soon it was time for the lecturer to get into his stride. He was a man of average build, in Buba and Sokoto, with his fila tilted to a rakish angle. He had soft and clear elocution, and as soon as he got into his pitch, you could tell he had the attention of the audience.
Statehood, he said, was a journey through a few simple stages, from Feudal to Pre-
Watching from the sidelines, you recalled you had first heard the term ‘Knowledge Society’ thirty years ago on a visit to Malaysia. All along the route to the capital Kuala Lumpur, billboards at the roadsides proclaimed the vision of Mahathir Mohammed – the Prime Minister, and his determination to make his country into a ‘knowledge society’. He was trying to galvanize the ethnic majority, the local Malays to develop their human potential so that they could compete with the dominant Chinese majority who controlled the economy, instead of waiting for government quotas to protect their interests perpetually.
As the speech progressed, it was clear that not all of Nigeria was on the same page regarding the desirability of a ‘knowledge’ society. Not only Boko Haram but also the people who fostered a system where unlettered almajiris overran the landscape and people who wanted nothing to do with knowledge held the commanding heights of power as entitlement were antithetical to the idea. ‘Knowledge is used to empower and enrich people culturally and materially…a society that creates, shares, and uses knowledge to improve its wealth and the well-being of its people…focuses on the development of its people ahead of the development of ‘things’…’
The lecturer’s words represented a paradigm shift from Nigerian reality, where all ‘wealth’ and expenditure were focused on ‘things’, and where ‘people’ in a major part of the country that almost always held political power languished at the bottom of the Human Development Index.
He showed a map of the world based on investment in Science and Technology. Africa did not appear at all.
It was ‘Knowledge’ that converted raw materials into industrial output, he averred. The raw material vendor got a pittance, and the manufacturer built an empire.
‘…a society that is not knowledge-based …cannot be competitive economically in modern times…it risks being re-colonised…
The cornerstones of the Knowledge-Based Society were Healthcare (access and quality), Education (access, quality and relevance) and Innovation – across the board.
A standing ovation.
A panel discussion to hammer further on the theme.
The audience was a cross-section of society, clearly worried about the state of the nation. A representative of the Ooni of Ife. Representatives of the Governors of Lagos and Ekiti. John Nwodo, Chairman of Ohaneze. Gani Adams, Aare Ona Kankanfo of Yorubaland. Chief Adebanjo, elder statesman. Students from various tertiary institutions.
There was a lively exchange for several minutes.
The one thing that was clear was that the country was going nowhere, fast. A large number of citizens had no knowledge, sought no knowledge, but had been brought up to feel entitled to power, more and more in the crude, brutal form of violence.
And yet it was on record that a government in the Western Region decades ago had tried to build a knowledge society, even before their contemporary Mahathir Mohammed
Could the journey be retraced, with different parts of the country being allowed to go at their own pace? That surely was the essence of the Restructuring that virtually everyone gathered on this day in the hall at MUSON was clamouring for.
As the guests and the members of the Voice of Reason began to disperse, clutching their take-away packs, it was obvious that there was a need for change in the thinking undergirding the Nigeria project.